Obviously Provisional Title That’ll Get Forgotten About (Again)

So Google Maps has updated its imagery, and now it shows commercial corridors. Urbanists have known for some time that different cities have different types of commercial corridors. Some, like Chicago, have corridors that march on down the city’s primary transit spines for what seems like miles on end; others, like DC, have corridors that wink into and out of existence.

And then we have this:

How did these byzantine commercial corridors, corridors which seem to undulate across vast swaths of the city like so many snakes, come about?

Like DC, Philadelphia’s heritage is one of commercial corridors that are short, discrete Main Streets. For example, here are Main Streets Roxborough and Manayunk.

Screenshot 2016-07-28 at 12.14.47 PMBut the city’s urban core is also a very old place, one that has continually intensified year after year, decade after decade, for almost four centuries now. As time goes on, the corridors get longer, and as they get longer, they start to meet one another. We can see this happening in South Philly: as East Passyunk gets stronger, it gets longer, and as it gets longer, it pushes closer to the Italian Market — a different commercial corridor which it will, given enough time, intersect with. The same holds true for South Street, and the Italian Market itself.

The process is apparently complete in Spruce Hill, where commercial corridors along Chestnut, Locust, Spruce, and 45th streets have effectively oozed into one another, creating a vast low-intensity commercial “district” more than a corridor. Some of the city’s best Ethiopian eats are in this district.

Similarly, increasingly complex commercial patterns can be seen in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, where the 2nd Street and Girard and Frankford avenue cores are mere blocks from one another, and where Frankford Ave. is a commercial corridor with its own identity. In terms of activity, this area has become the center of the River Wards, and is noticeably becoming the largest and most-intensively used commercial district outside Center City proper or the serpentine web of South Philly commerce.

This map isn’t perfect, though. It doesn’t show the Fairmount Avenue corridor, a strong eastward-expanding corridor that runs all the way from Pennsylvania Ave. to 18th St. or so — a corridor historically anchored by Eastern State, the way EPX was once anchored by the long-gone Moyamensing Prison at 10th and Passyunk. And it appears ambivalent to the idea of representing strip malls as commercial corridors, including the Oregon Avenue strips but ignoring the vast Pennsport power centers.

This inconsistency points to an interesting question: what, exactly, is Google Maps trying to point out? Destinations, perhaps? Intensity? Commercial use? What do you think?

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